A Response to the "Resistance" Within the Trump Administration
“I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” the anonymous Op-Ed published in The New York Times Opinion Section on September 5th, 2018, gives readers a glimpse into the mind of a senior U.S. Government official working in President Trump’s White House. The Op-Ed was published at a time of chaos and great dissatisfaction among a large portion of the American public. The writing is entrenched with appeal to the personal character of the author, an attempt to make them credible and likable to the reader, as well as appeal to both reason and the emotions of the reader.
The reason for the publication of this piece and the selection of The New York Times as the outlet is open to interpretation. The author remains anonymous and we have no way of knowing their true intent, but assumptions can be made based on the content and language used, among other factors. We must consider the reader base of the New York Times, as well as the relationship between the New York Times and President Trump. The New York Times tends to align itself with more liberal views and opinions, thus having a more Democrat centric base of viewers. President Trump has denounced the New York Times as “fake news,” and this sentiment has been echoed by many of his supporters. The logical assumption can then be made that this piece was aimed at readers who do not agree with Trump’s ideas and actions, not those who support him. This then begs the questions – what did the author hope to accomplish by publishing this piece? Why did the author feel it was necessary?
The statement that the author and “like-minded colleagues have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations” seems to be an attempt to reassure the public that certain U.S. Government Officials are working to protect them. While they may think the President does not have the best interests of the country in mind, the author is quick to assert that they and their colleagues do. There are the two main arguments that demonstrate that this was an attempt at reassurance. First, it can be seen as an effort to comfort nervous and disconcerted Americans, to let them know that while they may have doubts about the actions and intentions of the President, there are members of the administration keeping him in check. However, writing this Op-Ed undermines the claim of the author that they want the administration to succeed, and that they are resisting internally and privately. To publicly make these claims delegitimizes the strength of the administration as a unified entity. Showing this internal divide and lack of cohesion hurts the chances of the success of the administration, directly contradicting what the author claims are their goals. This can also be seen as a message of reassurance to wary Republicans before the upcoming midterm elections. The author emphasizes that they do not disagree with all of the Trump administration’s policies, and that many such policies have “already made America safer and more prosperous.” If that is an accurate representation, the Op-Ed could be assuring Republicans that these members of the internal resistance have things under control, and that they should continue to have faith in and support Republicans during the upcoming elections.
Regardless of intended audience, the intent of the author with regards to personal image is clear. The author is rationalizing their involvement in the administration and wants to be seen has heroic rather than demonized. The author wants to come out on top, unscathed if the administration were to self- implode, a feeling the author may view as inevitable. It could also be argued that the author is aiming to gain the respect and approval of their audience by stating their disapproval of the things they also object to. The author makes the claim that “The erratic behavior would be more concerning if it weren’t for unsung heroes in and around the White House. Some of his aides have been cast as villains by the media. But in private, they have gone to great lengths to keep bad decisions contained to the West Wing, though they are clearly not always successful.” This suggests that media portrayal of the White House staffers and aides has been unfair and inaccurate and is the author’s way of praising themselves and their peers. By telling us that they are “part of the resistance inside the Trump administration,” the author is effectively telling us that they are “unsung heroes” as well as being personally unhappy with their portrayal in the media. The author insinuates that they truly are selfless, because the public does not know how much worse things could be – what might have happened if individuals like themselves were not on the inside. In this statement they also try to invoke a feeling of relatability and empathy. One can understand that they are “not always successful.” Nobody is perfect, and the White House aides are just like you and me. We all make mistakes. Occasionally, things fall through the cracks.
The specific types of language used by the author to frame their ideas also provide insight into their mindset as well as the political goals of the Op-Ed. While the author frequently uses the word “resistance,” the distinction is made clear between this internal resistance and “the popular resistance of the left,” giving the impression that the author still disagrees with this resistance and holds their own in higher esteem. The author states: “Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the President. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.” Statements such as this attempt to appeal to reason. It is logical that “no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis.” It makes the reader nod their head in agreement, and feel that the author is a rational, reasonable, person, and insinuates that their colleagues in the administration are as well. However, statements like this can’t help but make you wonder if the author is all talk. If the author and their colleagues felt that strongly about removing the President, they would likely not let a potential “constitutional crisis” stand in their way. This also ties into the overarching theme of appeal to the author’s character. The idea insinuated to readers here is that if they had the motivation and the guts to write this Op-Ed, and by doing so stand up to the administration and expose this inner conflict, it is only natural that readers should respect the author and believe what they are saying.
Additionally, the author’s words seem meticulously chosen, drawing on the ideas of Frank Luntz’s “Words That Work,” and “The 14 Words to Never Use,” an appendix of Luntz’s “Republican Playbook,” to convey a carefully curated message. The playbook, titled The New American Lexicon, outlines specific but subtle rhetorical strategy and has been distributed by Luntz to top conservative politicians. The author has obviously drawn upon the strategy put forth by Luntz in his attempts to establish credibility and speak volumes about one’s aspiration for prestige and success. Luntz writes, “Messages need to say what people want to hear. The key to successful aspirational language for products or politics is to personalize and humanize the message to trigger an emotional remembrance.” Throughout the entire Op-Ed, the author does just that. This further supports the notion that the language used reflects the author’s conservative worldview. By stating that “The root of the problem is the President’s amorality,” the author is appealing to popular opinion. However, there is an important distinction between being amoral and immoral, and the President’s immorality is not something the author is willing to admit. The use of the phrase “misguided impulses” is sugar coating the reality of Trump’s ideas and actions, and not saying what they really are, which is again, immoral.
Jacques Ellul, author of Propaganda, a book providing many frameworks for modern day propaganda, outlines categories of propaganda creating distinctions between types of propaganda including political and sociological, covert and overt, and agitation and integration. The Op-Ed reflects sociological propaganda in that the propagandist aspects of it do not come from a place of clear intent. A reader may not necessarily view this as propaganda – it is implicit, and we do not know the source, making it covert. We do know that it is a senior official, but the anonymity of the piece leaves the source open to interpretation, meaning readers are not being overtly influenced by someone with obvious power and status. It could also be viewed as both agitation and integration propaganda, depending on your view and perspective. Supporters of the Trump administration were likely and reasonably agitated by this, as it was subversive and oppositional to the President and their party and deviated from the status quo of senior officials showing support for the administration they work for. Those who disapprove of Trump, however, likely viewed this through the lens of integration, as it conformed with their perspectives and beliefs. The Op-Ed is then finished with a call to action, which again can be interpreted as agitation propaganda. The author writes, “There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first. But the real difference will be made by everyday citizens rising above politics, reaching across the aisle and resolving to shed the labels in favor of a single one: Americans.”
The Op-Ed is objectively successful in making its argument. It is understandable that large parts of the intended audience approve of and are satisfied by this rhetoric. The author is successful because they tell people what they want to hear. However, I am also part of the intended audience, and although I am likely the exception to the rule, I see right through it. It is not an honest piece of writing, it is overflowing with devices of persuasion and propaganda, intended to influence people to think about the author in a certain light. That being said, it is well written and makes sense. The rhetoric works in the way it intended and was influential. The Op-Ed succeeded in accomplishing its goal, and that is what constitutes good propaganda.